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When is the best time for a river cruise in Europe?

Plan your European river cruise to avoid low and high water levels, excessive crowds and freezing temperatures.

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Choosing the best time for a river cruise in Europe can be tricky. You don’t want to find your tour disrupted by low and high water levels, broken locks and frozen rivers after you have booked your tickets.

Although the weather can ruin your plans at any time of the year, some months are more appealing than others for river cruising.

We have done the research and come up with the best time for a European river cruise.

Best time for a river cruise in Europe

September has a pleasant climate and normal water levels, which means there is a minimal chance of disruption due to low or high water levels and frozen rivers. In addition, large crowds will have dissipated by September, so there’s no need to book your cruise a year in advance or to pay a higher price.

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With the majority of summer crowds and high prices gone and the heat of July and August behind you, September brings some of the most pleasant river cruising conditions. During April, May and June, the melting of snow coupled with spring rains flood most European rivers. As a result, boats are often unable to pass under low-hanging bridges due to the high water level.

When levels start to recede around August, especially after a dry summer, cruises can be postponed or cancelled altogether due to water being too low in some of the river systems, but if this is the best time for you to travel, you can make sure you're covered by getting cruise insurance that may compensate you for altered itineraries or cancelled sailings altogether. By November and December, you run the risk of rivers freezing in northern and eastern Europe. They’re sometimes closed shortly after Christmas during the dead of winter. The colder temperatures may also deter you from sitting out on the cruise deck to enjoy views of the passing countryside.

Weather and prices

  • Best time for a European river cruise, weather-wise: From late June to mid-October the climate is warm and dry.
  • Cheapest time for a European river cruise: Europe attracts fewer visitors during winter due to freezing temperatures. This makes river cruises cheaper during October, November and December.

Best time for a river cruise in Europe for:

  • Rhine River: Despite the risk of high water levels during spring (March and April), a river cruise at this time of year can be a rewarding experience due to blossoming tulip gardens along the river. If you want to play it safe, avoid the rainy months from April to June.
  • Danube River: River cruises on the Danube are increasingly popular in December thanks to vibrant celebrations and cities dressed up beautifully for Christmas.
  • Amsterdam to Budapest (Main, Rhine, Danube) cruise: If you want to view Dutch tulip gardens, April and May are the best months to take a cruise. If you prefer Christmas markets, December is the right time for your trip. Take the cruise in September for pleasant weather and reliable water levels.

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